One thing that has always perplexed me on projects is how poorly we as Project Managers and project teams manage risk. All of us have the initial Risk Management meeting and try to capture the risks and mitigations required. But even in that first meeting, we fall short in identifying and planning how we are going to address the risks on the project.
At one time I had thought it was just because we as Project Managers got busy with the work on managing the project and forgot about scheduling follow-up Risk sessions. But that wasn’t it, even when the Risk items were incorporated into weekly status reporting, the effort and attention paid to risk management was just ceremonial. There was something else at play.
I was working on another long project and we were discussing the challenges with the issues and risks encountered. In a retrospective we discussed how we managed the issues and risks looser and looser as the project executed. We did this as we became more comfortable with the client and they became more comfortable with us. Unfortunately new players came onto the project later and changed characteristics of the project. This changed the issues and risks but we were not managing them as formally as before as we became comfortable with the issues, risks, client, and the project.
One person summed this situation up perfectly. “On projects it is natural for the project team to become the project. This eventually happens with the Project Manager.”
This is where the lack of formality and process can be a problem for the Project Manager and the project.
Become the Project
“Become the Project” – sounds rather Zen-like doesn’t it?
Become the Project to me means that you have somewhat lost your objectivity and like the rest of the team you are thinking in a positive and trusting manner. You start to expect issues to be resolved very soon, that risks will not happen, and that if things happen we will address them as one homogeneous team. Well it turns out that perspective is valuable and required by some of the team members as they are working through deliverables, the Project Management and leadership need to be careful to not fall into this lack of formality.
So what to do?
What can we do? As much as we say not to do it, it is human nature. Trust will be built up and used after working with the same people for months and years.
This is where your Project Management Office or Deliver Management Team needs to help your project team by providing the independent 3rd party or sober second thought perspective. The Project Management Office or Delivery Management Team’s role is not to own the risks and issues but to facilitate the review and consult on them as an independent 3rd party. In this way, we ensure the review happens and we make decisions based on all the most current data from the project balanced with objectivity and experience.
Ultimately you want your team and Project Manager to be the project, we just need to add a check and balance to ensure issues and risks aren’t overlooked.